Taiwan has lost yet another friend with the tiny West African nation of Sao Tome and Principe deciding to sever ties with the Republic of China.
Taiwan’s foreign minister David Lee expressed “regret” over Sao Tome’s decision, but added that Taiwan refuses to engage in “dollar diplomacy,” explaining that the African island nation felt its financial needs were not being satisfied.
Meanwhile, Beijing has deep pockets and no such qualms. The Chinese foreign ministry said that it “appreciated” the decision and “welcomed Sao Tome and Principe back onto the correct path of the one-China principle.” It’s not clear if Beijing will immediately try to establish diplomatic ties with the former Portuguese colony, which has an economy mostly based on exporting cocoa and a population of less than 200,000.
Of course, this comes in the middle of a prolonged diplomatic war between Beijing and Taipei which was inflamed earlier this month following a protocol-shattering phone call between US President-elect Donald Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
While Taiwan may be cautiously optimistic about Trump’s questioning of the “one China” policy — which has been the bedrock of US-China relations for the past 40 years — it is unquestionably losing the global war for influence.
With Sao Tome’s abrupt departure, there are now just 21 countries or entities around the world that have full diplomatic relations with the Republic of China. Most of these nations are located in Latin America. In Africa, where China is exerting increasing economic influence and might, the only nations that still hold ties with Taipei are Burkina Faso and Swaziland. The last government to sever ties with Taiwan was Gambia in 2013.
Next month, Tsai will be making an official trip to visit a few of Taiwan’s allies in Central America. On the way she will transit through the US, but not meet Trump. The rumored trip was made official at a press conference by Tsai yesterday, making the timing of Sao Tome’s sudden announcement seem not so coincidental.
Follow Shanghaiist on WeChat